Deviated Septum Surgery – Cost, Recovery, & How it is Performed

The nasal septum is the firm but flexible partition made up of bone and cartilage that divides our nasal cavity into two halves. Ideally, the septum is located exactly in the center, but doctors estimate that 80% of us have off-center septums and may not even know it.

What is a deviated septum?

A “deviated septum” means that the septum is severely off-center or crooked, making it difficult for us to breathe. Some of us are born with it. Others develop a deviated septum after some type of trauma or injury to the nose.

Signs of deviated septum: Do I need deviated septum surgery?

In some cases you may have no symptoms whatsoever, but difficulty breathing is one major indication of a deviated septum. Another is nasal congestion, particularly when it occurs on one side of your nose more than the other. Other common symptoms include frequent nosebleeds, noisy breathing and snoring during sleep, frequent sinus infections, and nasal congestion. Of course there could be other reasons to explain these symptoms, such as allergies and chronic sinusitis. Sometimes your symptoms can be relieved with decongestant, nasal sprays or other medication, so it’s important to talk with your doctor to discuss your options. If your breathing problems don’t resolve easily, you may be a good candidate for deviated septum surgery, otherwise known as septoplasty surgery. Note that this procedure is not generally performed on children, because the septum continues to grow until around age 18.

What can I expect from deviated septum surgery?

During deviated septum surgery (septoplasty), the surgeon will work inside your nose in an attempt to remove some of the excess cartilage or bone that may be blocking the nasal passage. Deviated septum surgery is usually done in an outpatient setting under local or general anesthesia. The surgery can take several hours depending on the severity. You may have also decided to combine the surgery with a “nose job” (rhinoplasty) to improve the appearance of your nose. The combined surgery is called “septorhinoplasty”. You may also need sinus surgery. It is quite common for deviated septum surgery to be combined with other procedures.

Recovery from deviated septum surgery depends on how much work was done. You can usually go home three or four hours after surgery. Your nose may be packed with material to keep the septum in place while it heals and prevent excess bleeding. If you only had septoplasty, you can expect very little bruising or swelling. If other procedures are performed, especially those that alter the external part of your nose, you can anticipate swelling and bruising for several weeks.

What is the typical cost of deviated septum surgery?

No surgery is ever cheap and deviated septum surgery is no exception. Depending on the complexity, the procedure will average about $2,000 and you will incur additional costs for the hospital or surgical center, the anesthesiologist, testing, etc. If you have health insurance, here are some important things to know:

  1. Medical necessity. Your doctor will have to provide evidence of your breathing difficulties and other symptoms in order to justify your need for surgery. This may require the doctor to send diagnostic test results and you may have to undergo expensive imaging studies like CT scans. This will add to your costs.
  2. Get an authorization before surgery. Your insurance company will want to know if your surgery is “medically necessary” or “cosmetic” (merely to improve your appearance). The surgery to repair the deviated septum may be covered but cosmetic procedures, such as rhinoplasty, will not.  Ask them to give you a “pre-determination” or “pre-certification” It is better to have this debate with them before you have surgery.
  3. Cosmetic surgery. Even if some part of your surgery may be cosmetic, your insurance should cover the expenses related to the medically necessary septoplasty, including much of the surgery center and anesthesia fees. This will help reduce your total costs.

Are there any risks or side effects?

There are risks from any type of surgery so be sure to discuss them with your doctor. Deviated septum surgery is very common and quite safe. The chance of having side effects is rare but they may include dull headaches, bleeding, infection, loss of smell, or a perforation of the septum.

To sum it all up, surgery to repair your deviated septum is worthwhile because it should dramatically improve your difficulty with breathing and reduce your frequent nasal congestion.  Get a correct diagnosis and understand your options so you can get the best treatment.

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